When it comes to the holidays, libraries tend to take two distinct stances in an attempt to welcome all. Some libraries try to celebrate as many holidays as possible, planning events for Halloween, Dia de los Muertos, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa at the end of the year. Others, recognizing that libraries that try to celebrate many holidays still tend to leave some out (I’ve yet to see a library advertise an Islamic holiday event, for instance), prohibit holiday events and decorations all together. This policy is also meant to ensure that patrons who do not celebrate a specific holiday do not feel alienated by decorations or left out of certain programs. Both approaches are intended to present the library as an inclusive community space. But I often wonder which approach community members would prefer.
For my own part, I prefer libraries that try to celebrate as many holidays as possible. I personally do not see decorations or programs for holidays other than my own as offensive or alienating. Rather, I like to see the library trying to celebrate as many traditions as possible. To me, a community space recognizing a holiday is that space saying, “You are welcome here. We appreciate and value your traditions.” If the holiday is not one I celebrate, it becomes an opportunity for me to learn more about another religion or culture. To me, recognizing the existence of a holiday is what constitutes inclusion–not pretending the holiday does not exist.
Of course, the dilemma is that there are many holidays libraries do not celebrate and so some people may feel left out to see (mainly Christian) holidays recognized. I think the answer to this, however, is to include more programming, not less. I imagine the real hurdle librarians face in these circumstances is that they may not know enough about a certain holiday to know how to celebrate it in a meaningful, respectful way. In such cases, I think it would be wise for the library to reach out to community partners who can help lead more diverse programming, giving the community an opportunity to learn more about traditions other than their own. I believe such learning is important to help combat misunderstandings and prejudice.
I appreciate the intent behind a library prohibiting any acknowledgement of holidays. They do not wish to alienate the family who does not believe in Halloween or the family who is tired of seeing Christmas decorations everywhere when they do not celebrate Christmas. However, holidays are important moments that tend to draw the community together, and so it makes sense to me to have a community space recognize these days. I also wonder if these libraries are not missing an opportunity to spread more awareness of more cultures and more traditions.
What do you think? Does your library celebrate any holidays? Do you think the library should celebrate holidays?